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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Love and life as seen through the eyes of Javier Marías
To me, Javier Marías is a writer very much worth reading, even if elements of any given title are uneven (IMHO). I think he's really smart, really witty, very funny and most importantly, deeply insightful. 

All Souls starts out as a send-up of academic life at Oxford, narrated in the first person by a young, Spanish professor with a two-year contract at...
Published 13 months ago by Annie Maus

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Non-novel?
I found two basic levels to explore in Marias' work, All Souls. The first is I give hats off to his amazing mastery of the written form and conversational style. He pushes the boundaries of fiction in interesting ways. He almost completely dispenses with traditional paragraphs. With a lessor author this would be a disaster. With Marias it is a pleasure. He is an exact...
Published 7 months ago by V V Saichek


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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Love and life as seen through the eyes of Javier Marías, August 21, 2013
To me, Javier Marías is a writer very much worth reading, even if elements of any given title are uneven (IMHO). I think he's really smart, really witty, very funny and most importantly, deeply insightful. 

All Souls starts out as a send-up of academic life at Oxford, narrated in the first person by a young, Spanish professor with a two-year contract at that school. I found myself laughing aloud at some of the narrator's observations, but where was it all going, I wondered. 

Soon enough the meat of the story becomes apparent, and while the book remains fixed in the world of academia, the reader soon begins to see the daily treacheries  and experience the painful insights so hard-won by the often very decent but flawed characters in the book.

The latter part of the book didn't satisfy me, but that's life. The reader doesn't get to choose how a book ends. 

All Souls was a good solid read by a wonderful and, to my mind, important writer: whether I like some of the more dramatic passages in Marías or not, he has a unique voice and is a joy to read.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Non-novel?, January 26, 2014
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This review is from: All Souls (Vintage International) (Paperback)
I found two basic levels to explore in Marias' work, All Souls. The first is I give hats off to his amazing mastery of the written form and conversational style. He pushes the boundaries of fiction in interesting ways. He almost completely dispenses with traditional paragraphs. With a lessor author this would be a disaster. With Marias it is a pleasure. He is an exact constructionist with delicate style. His protagonist has such a natural voice it seems as if you're having coffee with the character, not reading about him. He has the ability to develop a sense of conversational intimacy that I have not seen bettered. HIs work is fluid and graceful and an example of superb technical mastery. The second level, that of plot, left me unsatisfied. He is a plot minimalist (at least here,) and very few things actually happen. What does happen is small stuff involving personal peccadilloes, (not terribly interesting ones,) and on a larger scale, an exploration of what constitutes trust, love, companionship and personal honesty. The story takes place in Oxford and is a study of the life of a Spanish scholar who hooked a limited contract to teach at Oxford. Since Marias did teach in Oxford for a brief period, the 'outing' of academic big-wigs feels right and has an undoubted charm. Although I love his style of writing; intimate and conversational; I wish he had built something with more meat. It seemed rather anemic to this reader and two thirds through the book I had a nagging suspicion I wasn't enjoying it much. I also suspected the last third would be more of the same . . . and it was. There is much to be praised here. Marias is always charming and erudite, and as I mentioned, a technical genius -- All Souls is just not much of a plot.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars All Souls presents ghosts worthy of Halloween, January 1, 2014
By 
tony covatta (cincinnati, OH, US) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: All Souls (Vintage International) (Paperback)
Of course, as every Catholic school child learns, Halloween (All Hallows Eve) is the night that precedes All Souls Day, November 1. At first I thought that Marias would play off that factoid in his novel, but no, he simply plays off the name of one of the colleges at Oxford and tries to make what is an academic novel into something more universal, a study of the meaning of life, no less.

To an extent he is successful. As a former college English professor myself, I have always found the campus or academic novel an excruciating and ultimately unsatisfying sub-genre. College profs and college mores are much too obvious a butt of fun and derision, and hurling scorn and bile at them is like shooting fish in the proverbial barrel. Why bother? Who cares anyway? But Marias does not go at it like Kingsley Amis, for instance does in Lucky Jim, where Amis skewers one and all with dripping irony. Marias obviously was stifled and appalled by his own two year stint at Oxford, and he lets us know it, but he is a much more subtle writer than Amis.

The Oxford dons, male and female, are empty, ghostly, not fully alive. They are a distressing, self-indulgent, finicky, egotistic lot, and Marias calls them for it in ever so soft a voice. I was never so fortunate as to attend Oxford although I have always admired it and Cambridge from a distance, but Marias to the extent he can be believed, quenches whatever regret the aspirant scholar might feel for not being among the elect. The Oxford characters are simply passing the time between appointment and death with dinners, affairs, eaves dropping, scandal mongering and the like. There is no regard for scholarship, and certainly none for teaching. The undergraduates are simply shadowy figures scuttling to and from the dining tables and the town discotheques. Only at the discos do our Narrator and other dons engage the great unwashed from the environs around the colleges and the surrounding countryside.

But academe is not the major topic of the book, even if it is set in the town of Oxford. The theme is death and how to cope with the thought of it, with even a glimmer of an answer to the question of how to make life worthwhile in the "weak turning wheel" that is life on earth before the awful day one enters the realm of souls, leaving the land of the living, as we all must do, even the learned gentlemen and ladies of Oxford. But Oxford does not seem to be the place to do it.

The Spanish narrator, who must be something like Marias, is an unreliable one, but still the most impressive figure in the book. He marks time for his two years but is increasingly repelled by the emptiness around him. Even his long love affair with Clare is ultimately dissatisfying. The Oxfordians are interesting to observe, but they give each other nothing. Perhaps why so many of them were spies in the Second World War. They are intelligent but inscrutable. As the narrator says at the death of one, their deaths are neither momentous nor especially impressive. A sad verdict indeed.

Note: you will be scratching your head when you get to the middle of the book and Marias starts in on the Kingdom of Redonda, an uninhibited rock in the Carribean, and the bloke who was once King of it--Marias is now--and there are even two pictures of that gentleman, Mr. Gaumsworthy, in the book. Don't give up on or forget the pictures. They help tie the three sections of the work together at the end. In order not to spoil things, I say no more.

This is the second Marias I have read, the first being A Heart So White. While this work was the first of Marias's to cause a major stir, it is not equal to Heart So White or I believe to others I have waiting for me on the chair opposite my desk. Nevertheless it was an enjoyable read. If you want to see Oxford, this is an inexpensive way to do it, and there is open enrollment.

To conclude, one throwaway sentence capsulizes Marias's attitude toward the place his narrator escaped to find marriage and family and a larger life back in Madrid. The River Isis flows through Oxford. As Marias remarks, this river is called the Thames always and everywhere--except in Oxford.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A perfect read, May 23, 2013
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I loved it. Very well written. Topic great. Overall a wonderful novel. The setting in Oxford is right for the story and an opportunity to learn about the university.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Not as good as A Heart So White, September 15, 2014
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While I liked this book, I preferred A Heart So White. I writing is beautiful and profound, yet the structure of the novel is meandering. There is no strong storyline so at times the book is slow. I am a huge fan of Marias and have enjoyed his other books more than All Souls which is highly touted. Perhaps someone who attended Oxford or Cambridge would enjoy this book more. I would read A Heart So White for a taste of Marias rather than All Souls. Still, any Marias is more rewarding than most of the other books out right now.
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5.0 out of 5 stars and this is why enjoy reading Javier Marias, July 13, 2014
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While Javier's prose is masterful (even through translation), the American reader must understand this a European novel, meaning it is not a John Grisham or James Patterson mystery or thriller. Distinctive to Javier's prose are the long, narrative expositions that reveal internal character commentary, an analysis, really, of the particular human dilemma encountered by the narrator. American's would call this a "thinking" piece, and this is why enjoy reading Javier Marias. Extended, cumulative sentences meander through the jungle of human trials and tribulations.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A very funny academic novel of manners that turns out to have more beneath the surface, July 1, 2014
Set in Oxford, this novel is more episodic than plot-driven: at first it seems chiefly a vehicle for witty observations of 1980s Oxford manners, with the high point being the depiction of a high table dinner that goes awry (pp. 36-54 in the Vintage edition), an extremely funny comic set piece. However, the novel eventually moves into a different mode, becoming a meditation on desire and mortality. The conclusion, depicting the end of the narrator's love affair, is poignant -- and gives an unexpected depth to the whole. As well, the themes that emerge in the closing pages have been threaded through earlier passages that may have seemed on first encounter digressive or merely comic. There is a very artful pattern here, one that rewards rereading.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Laugh Away, January 8, 2014
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If you've been involved with higher education from behind the desk, this novel is deliciously enjoyable. It is, with the comedy, still an early Marias serious story revealing the various ways knowing who the people around you are, knowing even who you are, whether you can just hope to catch up with and satisfyingly know in order to control all the identities you've been, while you still continue to take on new identities, like it or not, adding to that the multiple identities that make up each individual person in or with access to your life, is ultimately impossible. Certainty does not exist, therefore trust is not safe.
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4.0 out of 5 stars worth the time, August 9, 2013
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Jamu "suspense fan" (philadelphia pa usa) - See all my reviews
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Good writing, good story and images. Worth the time because it has many things that I found insightful and sometimes poetic.
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5.0 out of 5 stars seeing through someone else's experience, July 9, 2013
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Marias clearly and expertly reveals the narrator's thoughts and feelings. The reader experiences being "in his head". Very well written.
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All Souls (Vintage International)
All Souls (Vintage International) by Javier Marias (Paperback - April 23, 2013)
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